LL expected more growth

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The Los Lunas School District has 12 passing schools and five failing schools, according to New Mexico's new school grading system.

Raymond Gabaldon, Desert View and Ann Parish elementary schools all received D grades, as well as Los Lunas and Century high schools.

Gov. Susana Martinez announced the release of the first official school grades Monday, marking the first time the state has utilized a school accountability system created specifically for the students of New Mexico, stated a press release from the governor's office.

Across the state, 62 percent of the schools scored A, B or C grades.

Los Lunas Superintendant Bernard Saiz said he'd like to know what weight was given in each category so he could pinpoint areas in need of more attention.

"I was pleased to see we have no Fs in the district," Saiz said. "However, I expected to see more growth."

The new system replaces Adequate Yearly Progress, the federal ratings which, according to estimates, would have labeled nearly 98 percent of New Mexico's schools as "failing" this year, with little useful information to differentiate between schools based on growth or proficiency.

"There are some grades that don't quite make sense to us," Saiz said. "But until we get more information — more than what's been provided to us — we won't be sure exactly why these grades were assessed the way they were."

The district as a whole is at about a low C average, and the superintendent said that is unacceptable.

"Many of the other schools our size or within our geographical area scored similar to that," he said.

School officials and principals met to discuss the grades and develop improvement strategies.

"They're getting after it right away in trying to figure out what happened, what went wrong, how they can fix it," Saiz said. "I was very pleased with their aggressiveness in wanting to attack the problem and correct it immediately after they saw the results."

According to a seven-year trend school officials graphed using the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAPS tests, all of the district's schools, except Los Lunas and Valencia high schools.

Apparently, the progressive improvements are not fast enough, Saiz said.

"All of my principals expected to get more out of these most recent tests and grades," he said. "We're at the point now that we're dissecting it, analyzing it and we're going to make corrections to fix it.

"The Public Education Department provided each school with the formulas it used to calculate the grades, but the actual values they're adding to each variable in that formula are unknown to us," Saiz said.

Until school officials are able to understand that more clearly, they only have a general direction to go in but not a specific focus, he said.

Bosque Farms and Sundance elementary schools both received As on the preliminary grades earlier this year, but received Bs in the final grading this month.

"Sundance Elementary had some pretty significant growth in their scores from last year's New Mexico Standard Based Assessment," Saiz said. "They already had an A to begin with, and then on top of that they grew significantly in both their math and reading, yet their grade dropped to a B, which is not understandable.

"We're appealing that one," he said. "It just doesn't make sense. How do you start out with an A, then you increase your scores, and then you drop to a B?"

Bosque Farms Elementary dropped in both the reading and math scores, so the superintendent feared its grade might drop.

Los Lunas High School had increases in test scores, but its grade remained at a D, while Valencia High School had drops in test scores in math and reading, yet it remained at a C.

Many schools across the state saw drops in grades from the preliminary grades, similar to the Los Lunas District, he said.

"It wasn't a significant drop in our overall grade," Saiz said. "But it's not who we want to be. We're not at all happy with a C average."

When the district was under AYP, only two schools were proficient. With the grading system, 12 of 17 schools are passing, and five schools are revealed to need greater assistance, professional development and resources.

"I'd say, overall, the grading system that Public Education Department of New Mexico has come up with is a better system than the AYP," Saiz said. "It's giving my school principals and my school leaders information and direction to shoot for in order to make improvements. It's given a better picture of the schools in the Los Lunas School District that are passing — 12 rather than two."

The superintendent wants more information from the Public Education Department, so he and school officials can sharpen their focus improvement.

"What's missing," Saiz asks. "What is preventing us from progressing at a more rapid rate?"


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.